Section. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
In passing the 14th Amendment without clear guidance on the right of the African-Americans to vote, the determination on voting rights was left to the states. At the time neither the Northern or Southern states were all that keen in allowing the Blacks an equal voice in the government, and the courts sided with the popular position of the day. Nonetheless, supporters recognized the need to clearly provide the former slaves and freeman with equality at the ballot box. The Amendment was proposed on February 26, 1869 and ratified 342 days later on February 3, 1870. The following states rejected the amendment, Kentucky (March 12, 1869), Delaware (March 18, 1869), Ohio (Apr 30, 1869), Tennessee (Nov 16, 1869), California (January 28, 1870), New Jersey (February 7, 1870), and Maryland (February 26, 1870). New York initially approved, then rescinded its ratification on January 5, 1870, but finally rescinded its rescission on March 30, 1970.[i]
Unfortunately for minorities the passage of an amendment did little to change the realities of the discrimination they faced, even when taken to the highest court in the land. Initially, the SCOTUS was inclined to emphasize only the negative aspects of the amendment. “‘The Fifteenth Amendment,’ it announced, did ‘not confer the right . . . [to vote] upon any one,’ but merely ‘invested the citizens of the United States with a new constitutional right which is . . . exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’” [ii] Fortunately, later courts have amended this early interpretation, and the courts have been actively involved in settling the various tactics our politicians have used to subvert the suffrage of African-Americans. Unfortunately, these have historically been done retroactively, after the damage of discrimination has occurred.
It would be nice if I could write that today the 15th Amendment stands as only a reminder of what was once a wide-spread problem in the United States, but I cannot. Racial discrimination remains alive and well, in fact it has grown significantly in this century as various groups come into power and attempt to maintain that power through the creation of racial division and strife. The hopes of those who crafted the 15th Amendment remains an unrealized dream, but the safe-guard stands for those whose rights are taken through the subterfuge of the political establishment.